Tomorrow, Tuesday (April 26, 2016), could be a historic day for Philippine football.
Kaya Football Club is on the verge of qualifying for the 2016 AFC Cup knockout round. A win tomorrow would secure Kaya passage through the next round. It would be the first time a Philippine club got past the group stages of a continental competition. Aiming to ward off Kaya, though, is Hong Kong-based club Kitchee Sports Club who prevailed, 1-0, the last time both teams squared off at the latter’s home turf. The historic Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila will host tomorrow’s encounter with the kickoff time set at 3:00PM.
As of this moment, Kaya leads Group F with 9 points after 4 games played. For Kaya and Azkals midfielder OJ Porteria, everything that has happened so far was just surreal. “I’m just proud of the guys, proud of the organization, and I just want to thank everybody for having our backs throughout this AFC Cup and we’re just excited to keep going and see how far we can go,” Porteria added.
On the other hand, Kaya coach Joel Villorino was in a more solemn mood before the game. “Bukas na po naming malalaman kung magiging effective ang plano namin for them kasi nung first game namin, natalo kami sa kanila. We’ll try to fix that tomorrow.”
Despite Kaya’s loss against Kitchee at Hong Kong, Porteria stated that revenge isn’t on players’ minds. “I think the loss is past us. We’re going to use the momentum that we’ve had to win tomorrow and we have the advantage because we’re at home. It’s at 3:00PM, we’re used to the heat. They’re not used to the heat. I think we just have to use the momentum that we had in this campaign to win tomorrow and hopefully we can get that win.”
Villarino likewise agreed with Porteria as to how tomorrow’s weather would affect the game. “We take advantage of the weather, kasi advantage sa atin yan dahil sanay tayo sa mainit so hopefully isang factor na pwede namin silang kunin dun.”
It’s been more than two months since Kaya first competed in the AFC Cup. Porteria felt that Kaya has grown so much from the first game, which was incidentally against Kitchee. “The morale of the team. The belief. We’ve gone three games unbeaten in this campaign and like I’ve said, who would’ve thought we’ll be here. But we’re here now and the morale of the team is very high. We’re at home so it’s our last home game so we’re very excited to play tomorrow”, he explained.
Pressure, however, is something which both Villarino and Porteria shrugged off with Kaya close to pulling off something historic. Villorino said, “Kahit manalo kami still nandun pa rin yung yung pressure namin kasi most of our fans, yung manonood, nakafocus ngayon sa amin. Normal lang yung pressure sa amin.” In addition to that, Porteria said, “I feel like I would rather have 9 points and pressure than maybe having 6 points or 3 points with pressure. We’re on top of the group and I’d rather have that than being 3rd or 4th (place) and having that pressure.”
One of the tangible signs that Philippine football is blossoming is having its club sides go far in continental competition. If Kaya wins tomorrow, then it will be a landmark day indeed for Philippine football. After their fantastic, 3-0, away win at Singapore against Balestier Khalsa FC, only a crazy person won’t have faith in Kaya.
*Photo courtesy of Kaya FC